Anxiety and depression are lonely afflictions. You often feel like no one understands you, that you are alone in how you feel and act on a daily basis, that the world does not want to hear about your despair. Maybe you go to therapy, maybe you write in a journal, but that’s the extent of sharing how debilitating your mental health issues are; it’s all between you and your therapist or you and yourself. No one else needs to know, because no one else will get it.
I’ve tried to explain my general anxiety disorder to people before, how it’s not just like being nervous about a specific event, but more like the low rumbling of storm clouds living inside your brain. It’s ever present, always threatening. Not everyone understands it, not everyone wants to. And that’s fine, because I tend to close myself off when it comes to my anxiety, anyhow. It’s mine. It’s not something I always want to share, and as much as I hate it, I am protective of it.
But then: a pandemic set in and, with it, myriad problems — economic uncertainty, massive death, the specter of the virus hanging over us, each of us wondering when it’s going to be our turn to either get it or maybe lose a loved one to it. We’re all reeling, we’re all living each day not knowing if we’re going to be locked down soon, we cough and wonder if we’re dying, we navigate the outside world like a minefield.
Suddenly, my anxiety is everyone’s anxiety; it’s become a shared experience. People who never suffered from anxiety before now have that same low level rumbling, now feel unsure all the time, now can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, can’t comprehend how they’re going to make it from one day to the next without utterly breaking down. We are suffering as one, we are facing a great mental health reckoning.
People who never understood me are now asking me “is this how you feel all the time?” or telling me they have a new found empathy for my mental plight, as they try to grapple with their newfound anxiety. The only difference, I tell them, is that generally my anxiety comes out of nowhere, with no regard for what’s going on in the world. It has no solid basis, no sound reason for existing. But on the surface, it’s the same. The feeling of impending doom, feeling the walls close in, dabbling in worst case scenarios. I see it in the eyes of people who I always thought to be the most…